Leo: A Basis For Performance

[h3]by Richard Chamberlain[/h3] [h5]Reprinted from The Quarter Horse Journal, May 1980[/h5]

Back in 1947, $2,500 was a lot of 13 money for a horse, particularly a crippled one. Only a chump would buy one like that. “I was the biggest chump in Oklahoma,” says Bud Warren of Perry. “Leo was crippled: he had a bad knee and he had a big stifle injury. His owner had been trying to sell him and I didn’t know it. He hadn’t got anybody to stick his neck out and buy him, and I was Just a big sucker. So I mailed him the check.” Four years later, the crippled stallion was 1951’s leading sire of two-year-old Register of Merit qualifiers, three of his get held four track records, the chump was one of the leading breeders of Quarter running horses and everyone had long since stopped laughing, Bred by John Wesley House, a respected, veteran horseman of Cameron, Texas.joereed11

Leo was foaled in 1940, the result of the courtship of Joe Reed II and Little Fanny. Fast blood flowed through Leo’s veins, as both his sire and his dam were by Joe Reed by Joe Blair (TB) out of Delia Moore, the outstanding running daughter of Old D J, that scion of Cajun-bred running horses. Joe Reed II was out of Nellene by Fleeting Time (TB) and Little Fanny’s dam was Fanny Ashwell by Ashwell (TB). Infused in Leo was the blood of Domino (TB), Old Billy, Traveler, Fannie Richardson, Sister Fannie and Whistle Jacket. A rich inheritance indeed, but there was more than early foot in the family. Beautiful heads, exceptional conformation, good disposition and versatile performance were hallmarks of the line, “I can still picture Leo the day he was foaled,” House wrote to Warren years later. “He looked just like the picture I saw of him in a recent issue of The Quarter Horse Journal as an aged stud — very masculine, heavily muscled; born looking like a great stallion.” At the age of 17 months, Leo —

[blockquote]It was through Leo that the Joe Reed line flowered most Standing 14-3 hands and weighing 1200 pounds, Leo was “made the way a Quarter Horse should be, with good bone, a short back and about as heavy a gaskin and stifle as you’ll find anywhere,..(and sired colts that were) compact and tight-twisted — definitely Quarter type,”[/blockquote]

then owned by Lester Manning of Gatesville, Texas — was hauled to Eagle Pass, near the Mexican border. John Tillman of Pawhuska, Oklahoma, was running a horse named Good Eye there under the tutelage of Bill Morgan, and had told the trainer to be on the lockout for a likely running prospect. Leo had nothing if not the looks of a runner, and Morgan immediately called Tillman to report that he’d found one that might do. Tillman bought the sorrel yearling for the asking price of $750. “I bought Leo..when he was a two-year-old, ” said Tillman as quoted by Nelson Nye in the January 10,1953 Thoroughbred Record. “He was an extremely fast colt that spring. He ran with and defeated such old time good ones as Red Sails, Johnny Bames, Good Eye and Cyclone — he defeated the latter going 220 yards in 12 flat unofficial); these were all in their prime when Leo met and bested them. In my opinion he is the best stallion brought into Oklahoma in a good many years; I do not know of a poor foal sired by him. When I had him he could do the eighth as above-stated, right here at Pawbuska, and when he was right there were not over five or six horses that could outrun him up to 300 yards, which he did repeatedly in,’16, He has always had a wonderful disposition, is easily handled, a perfect gate horse; and he had the heart and ability to come from behind and outrun horses with big names,” It wasn’t long before Leo himself joined the ranks of “horses with big names.” Tillman matched the stallion extensively as a two- and three-year-old and beat all the local competition. After that, Tillman declared Leo **open to any horse that would come to Pawhuska and run.” Many came and tried; most failed. For several years, the fleet sorrel held the 300-yard record at Pawhuska, doing :16 flat from a standing start, and is said to have repeatedly turned times of :12 flat for 220 yards. With all sorts of imposed handicaps, Leo won 20 of 22 matched races — the mares Punkin and Handle’s Lady (also known as “Rosalita,” “Little Breeze” and “Doll~ she later foaled Croton Oil, currently one of the leading sires of AQHA Champions, by Leo) bested him — and the competition dried up in Oklahoma.

Leo and Bud Warren
Leo and Bud Warren

Unable to match him. Tillman sold Leo to E.M. Salinas of Eagle Pass, who raced him in Texas and other short-horse country. Most of Leo’s racing was done on unrecognized brush tracks, but he qualified for a Register of Merit when he clocked :16.5 at Eagle Pass in a 300-yard race sanctioned by the old American Quarter Racing Association. Profitable races may have by that time become a bit hard for Salinas, too, to find, because shortly afterwards he leased out Leo for a tour of duty in Mexico. Unfortunately, at that time racing records were kept even more haphazardly south of the Rio Grande than north of it and virtually nothing is now known of Leo’s campaigns across the border.

Leo, by now a six-year-old returned a cripple from his southern sojourn. The stallion was injured in a trailer accident in Mexico, and his front legs, especially the left knee, were severely mutilated. Many accounts of the incident indicated that Leo’s legs were nearly sheared off, but such reports are probably exaggerated. “It tore up his leg,” says Warren. “He wasn’t crippled where he couldn’t walk or run, but he was mutilated and it took a long time to heal him up. His legs weren’t really ruined, but for racing they appeared to be. It’s as a wonder they saved him.” “They” were Helen Michaelis (second secretary of the AQHA; at the time an AQRA director representing the Eagle Pass Quarter Track, and owner of Punkin) and her trainer, who put Leo in their barn, nursed him back to health and fed him for several months. W.C. Rowe, an Oklahoma rancher, was looking for a stallion to serve a string of running mares which he had recently purchased in Louisiana. Knowing of I Leo’s prowess at the Pawhuska track and learning that he was for sale at Eagle Pass, Rowe bought him and returned him to the Sooner state.

Leo at age 15 with Bud Warren
Leo at age 15 with Bud Warren

At Tulsa in early 1947, Leo ran his last race: 375 yards against Little Joe (there have been several horses named “Little Joe;” the record is unclear as to which ran this race) for $1,000. Encumbered by his bad legs — which is quite an impediment for any racehorse, even one of Leo’s ability — he was beaten by a head. Rowe subsequently sold his ranch in Oklahoma and moved his operations toa place near Carlsbad, New Mexico. Leo made the trip in what was called an “immigrant car,” a type of boxcar which carried everything from livestock to furniture. According to Garford Wilkinson {The Quarter Horse Journal, April 1960), “Leo. ..occupied a makeshift stall. The rest of the car was filled with household goods, Somewhere within New Mexico’s borders the immigrant car with Leo aboard was lost in transit, long overdue at its destination…Rowe and a companion began searching for it. When the door of the boxcar was opened there stood Leo with his head sticking through bedsprings and covered with other wayward fixtures which had been thrown into his stall by the car’s frequent shuntings back and fort in numerous railway terminals. Bruised, hungry and thirsty, Leo’s condition bordered on the critical side. With tenderness and skill, he was nursed back to health.”

Leo soon changed hands again. Gene Moore, a friend of Rowe’s who ranched in the Osage country near Fairfax, Oklahoma, bought the stallion to stand at stud. “He was one of the best cowhorses I have ever thrown a saddle on, ” said Moore, as quoted in The Thoroughbred Record. “His disposition is truly wonderful — my little eight-year-old girl used to ride him. He’s a good sire; has the ability to mark his get in conformation and style similar to himself. His bloodlines speak for themselves.” And then Leo got hurt again. Moore was quite a busy man and traveled a lot, buying and selling cattle and horses. The day-to-day ranch operations were left in the hands of others, and though they may have been good cattlemen, they didn’t seem to know much about breeding horses. When the ranch hands had a mare to breed, they would turn her loose in a fenced lot, put a halter with a 30-foot rope attached to it on Leo, and then let the stallion follow the mare until he got her cornered. One of the mares clobbered him. “Kicked him the stifle,” says Warren. “It had a swelling on it about the size of your hat. His old left knee had a big knot (a legacy of the trailer accident) on it, and he was pretty crippled up.”

Croton Oil is out of one of the two mares that outran Leo when Tillman owned him.
Croton Oil is out of one of the two mares that out ran Leo when Tillman owned him.

Back in 1944, Leo had been pasture-bred to a number of mares, including Swamp Angel by Grano de Oro by Little Joe (probaby not the horse which outran Leo) and out of Nancy by Northington Ho. Warren bought the mare in foal at a sale in Stillwater, and the following year she dropped a bay filly, the first of the five registered get from Leo’s first crop. He named her Leota W, and as a two-year-old she could outrun every horse on his place. Leo, Warren thought, might have the makings of a superior sire. “I hunted him up, because I also had another filly – Flit – by him,” Warren says. Flit was out of Julie W, another of the mares Leo bred in 1944. “I’d never seen Leo, but I’d heard he won a bunch of match races up here when Tillman had him. Found him at Eagle Pass. I saw him later at Gene Moore’s place shortly after he’d gotten himself kicked. I bought him that night, big stifle and all. Figured I’d go down after awhile.” In the meantime, Leo suffered from another pressing, although less serious, malady. “That horse — I brought him home and put him in a stall, and he stunk like a hog for about a week,” says Warren. “Leo had been kept in a big lot with a bunch of hogs and a self-feeder full of corn. At the other end of the lot was an old barn full of baled alfalfa hay. The door was pushed down and Leo and them hogs would go right in among the baling wire and everything else and eat alfalfa. His manure was full of alfalfa and corn. That’s a heck of a way to keep a horse. I thought it was terrible, but I brought him home and in a week he was over that smell. His stifle didn’t amount to anything; just hadn’t been cared for properly and it got alright in a week or 10 days. But the knee that had been hurt was enlarged, and it got worse and worse as he got older.”

“He’s quite a horse, this Leo,” Leslie Ernenwein wrote six years later in the April 1953 Quarter Horse Journal “A sorrel standing H’S hands, he weighs 1200 pounds and is made the way a Quarter Horse should be, with good bone, a short back and about as heavy a gas kin and stifle as you’ll find anywhere…Leo, who is heavy-muscled and low-jointed, marks his colts well Most of them are sorrels or bays, compact and tight-twisted — definitely Quarter type.”

Leola was the first Quarter Horse to win three futurities, and later became Leo's first AQHA Champion.
Leola was the first Quarter Horse to win three futurities, and later became Leo’s first AQHA Champion.

By late 1947, Leota W was running in sanctioned races. She won four out of five starts on recognized tracks that year, including the Oklahoma Futurity; equaled the two-year-old filly track record at Del Rio for 440 yards (:23.0), and was co-holder of the world’s two-year-old record for 220 yards, running the distance in :12.4 at Tulsa. Warren bought an ad in that year’s AQRA yearbook supplement and doubled Leo’s breeding fee to $100.

Leo, he was now convinced, did have the makings of a superior sire. It didn’t take long to convince other people also. The following year, a sorrel filly by Leo named Garrett’s Miss Pawhuska beat Savannah G by a nose to the finish line in the Oklahoma Futurity; and Leota W won six of eight starts (she ran second once and was disqualified for interference from first once), set a quarter-mile track record for three-year-olds at Del Rio (:22.5), and lost the three-year-old championship title when Stella Moore beat her by half a length and lowered the age record for the quarter to :22.4 in the only race that year in which Leota W was actually outrun, Leo’s next crop (the three registered foals of 48; there were no registered get in 1947, the year after Leo’s return from Mexico) produced Leola, who became the first Quarter Horse to win three futurities. Each year and fruitage enhanced the stallion’s reputation, as in 1951, two-year-old records were established by Leolena, who ran :16.2 for 300 yards, and Mona Leta, who set marks of ;12.2 for 220 yards in the Oklahoma Futurity and :17 flat for 330 yards in the Rocky Mountain Futurity. Mona Leta shared the three-year-old filly honors with Black Easter Bunny the following year.

“Mr. Warren knew what he was doing all right, Nye wrote. “When the yearly figures were totted up at the end of ’51, Leo was third on the Leading Sires List for Short Horses, topped only by his dad and ‘Iron Horse’ Clabber. During the third quarter of last year (1952) Leo led the list. For two years straight (1951 and 1952) he has led the list of Sires of Juvenile Winners among quarter horses. He is the only sire who has gotten winners of the same futurity four out of five years and three times in succession (Oklahoma Futurity). He is Leading Sire of Futurity Winners. He has sired, as of September 1952, three individuals rated AAA, II rated AA and 26 head of Register of Merit sprinters. One of this number, Mono Leta has twice held the distinction of being named “Horse of the Month ” by the Racing Division of the American Quarter Horse Association.

1952 was an important year in several respects for Leo. Not only was Mona Leta his first get to be named a champion running horse, but Leola AAA that year became his first, and the Association’s ninth, AQHA Champion, and his colts won the get-of-sire trophy for the third time at the Oklahoma Quarter Horse show.

It was also the year that the prepotent stallion’s old luck caught up with him: he was injured in a breeding accident and was out of stud for most of the season. Warren, cancelled the book and let nature heal the injury (a broken blood vessel in his penis). While there weren’t many of Lee’s get foaled in 1953, there were quite a few at the track. Miss Meyers out of Star’s Lou made one start in 1951; her fifth-place finish was enough to discourage her owner from trying again that year. She came back in 1952 to win a few races and even managed to pick up a AAA rating at Albuquerque, but it was as a four-year-old that she made her mark. She opened the ’53 season with a second to Tonto Bars Gill at Rillito but the next week Miss Meyers could only manage a sixth. She made her next start more than a month later and ran second at Los Alamitos, but then something clicked and she came alive. She won a quarter-mile dash in AAA time at the Vessel’s racetrack the first week in May and followed it one week later with a victory in the California Championship, one of the most prestigious Quarter Horse races in the country at that time. In her next 12 starts, Miss Meyers ran AAA or AAAT at Bay Meadows, Centennial (where she won the World’s Championship Dash), La Mesa and Pomona, winning seven, running second twice and third twice, to bring her year’s earnings to $15,398.

With it came the title of World Champion Quarter Running Horse and champion mare. A few other Leo horses made themselves known in 1953. Robin Reed held the 350-yard stallion record for several years after he ran the distance in :17.9 at Pomona, and Oleo lowered the 300-yard record for two-year- olds to :15.8 in a quick trip at Raton. Mac Lee won the Kansas Derby and the Rocky Mountain Derby; Leo Tag won the Stallion Stakes at Centennial, and Leo Star Lady won the Oklahoma Futurity at Enid, Said The Quarter Horse Journal, ”Oklahoma’s pride and joy, the leading stallion Leo has contributed greatly to spreading the fame of ‘Osage runners’ throughout the country.”

It was more of the same the next year, as the runners from the Osage country continued setting records and winning races, keeping Leo at the top of his old leading sire lists and pushing him into new ones. My Leo equaled the two-year-old AA colt record when he ran 400 yards in :20,7, and Bobbie Leo equaled the two-year-old filly record set by Mona Leta, 330 yards in :17.0 (which was later adjusted, due to track conditions, to :16.9), After the 1954 race, Leo foals had won the Oklahoma Quarter Horse Exhibitor’s Association Futurity seven out of eight recognized runnings of the event, and his sons and daughters clocked some of the year’s fastest times at tracks like Albuquerque, Bay Meadows, Centennial, Los Alamitos and Raton. Leo Bob won the Colorado Futurity; Beauty Joleta captured the Oklahoma Derby, and Palleo Pete took the prestigious Winner Take All at Albuquerque. Bobbie Leo was named co-champion two-year-old filly, but of all Leo’s get that paid their way that year, Palleo Pete out of Osage Star Lady was the star that shown brightest. “When it was decided to discontinue the Meade, Kansas, race meeting this year,” said The Quarter Horse Journal “Centennial Park Turf Club agreed to present the featured Kansas Futurity and Derby during their summer season. The group of Kansas eligibles converged on the Centennial track July 2·G in a two-year-old allowance at 330 yards. The ten-colt field was pretty evenly matched, with the exception of a palomino flyer called Palleo Pete. He had it all his own way and steadily pulled away from his distant company to win by three lengths. His previous workouts had evidently been impressive because he was the odds-on favorite and he justified the public’s confidence by posting a !l 7.4 time for the 33O yards while packing a hefty 120 pounds. In the Futurity July 17, Palleo Pete bucked a strong headwind which slowed him down considerably but didn’t prevent his throwing daylight to the rest of the field again.”

After setting two-year-old colt track records of :22,3 (adjusted to :22.1) for 440 yards at Albuquerque and :18.1 for 350 yards at Los Alamitos, he was named 1954’s Champion Quarter Running Stallion and champion two-year-old colt. By the end of 1954, Leo had become, among other things, the all-time (1945-1954) Leading Sire of Register of Merit Qualifiers (with more than 50 percent of his starters making the grade), the Leading Sire of Two-Year-Old ROM Qualifiers, and the second Leading Sire of Money Earners’ One of his daughters was a AAA-AQHA Champion, and Leo was at the pinnacle of success as a stallion.

The following year, Janet Kierstad wrote in The Quarter Horse Journal, “Fifteen years old now, Leo doesn’t seem to be feeling his age. He still plays like a colt and will even stand on his hind legs and walk across his pen to the complete astonishment of anyone who is watching. Unlike most stallions, Leo is very fond of colts, and seems to enjoy having them nuzzle him through the bars of his pen. About a year and a half ago, the boy who fed Leo in the evening on a particular day left his gate open, and some time during the night Leo left the corral traveled through a couple more catch pens, and ended up in the pasture. When Warren discovered that he was gone the following morning, there was considerable excitement. However, in a matter of minutes, with everyone assisting, the old stud was found down by a pond grazing about very contentedly. Mares and colts were in the pasture next to him, but he respected the fence and no accident resulted.”

That year was a watershed for the stallion. Because he had been injured and out of stud for most of 1952, there were very few two-year-old starters by him and he made very few of the leading sires lists in 1955. However, the mid-Fifties marked the beginning of what was in essence a new era for him, for Leo’s ultimate contribution to the Quarter Horse breed was not in the ability of his get to race or perform as stock and show horses (though he certainly got more than his share) but rather it was in their ability to sire and produce outstanding foals themselves.

Several of the get of two of Leo’s Register of Merit sons qualified for, racing ROMs in 1955 (a few also qualified in 1954). Leo Tag (who was purchased and used by Warren when Leo was hurt in 1952) had three of his two-year-olds — Buddy Tag, Leo Kucera and Burke’s Sandy — and one three-year-old — Leo Bly — qualify; Alfaretta by Robin Reed earned her stripes that year; and after becoming the third leading money-earning horse for the year, Vanetta Dee out of Garret’s Miss Pawhuska was named Champion Quarter Running Three-Year-Old Filly. “A close scrutiny of Vanetta Dee’s pedigree discloses the key to the numerous Grade AAA performances displayed in her races’ ” said The Quarter Horse Journal when it named her Running Horse of the Month. “Her sire, Vandy (by Going Light (TB) out of Jean Ann Blair by Joe Blair (TB), was a top sprinter….(and) Garrett’s Miss Pawhuska…is one of the select few to retire undefeated having six straight wins (including the 14 in a 2-year-old allowance at 330 yards…to be continued

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